Catholics/Priesthood and Marriage


I was wondering why priests do not marry in the catholic church? I did not know if this was by choice or by a command found in scripture? Also, I was wondering about 1 Corinthians 9:5, "Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as [do] also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?" It sounds like Paul is saying that he and the other apostles have the right to marry a woman as long as she is a Christian, and that some of the other apostles, including Cephas (Peter), and JEsus' brothers already have wives. I appreciate your time and I loved your answer to the person asking about homosexuality.

Celibacy is a discipline in the Western half of the Church.  In the Eastern half of the Church they have the practice of a married clergy.  However in both halves Celibacy is held up as a higher calling and ideal.  The reason is simple: if the nature of the priesthood is a radical configuration of one's soul to Christ such that the person becomes "An icon of Christ" it is certainly a noble endeavor that one's life should conform closely to that of Christ.  The priest who remains unmarried more closely conforms his life to that of Christ than one who is married even though both the celibate state and the married state are worthy endeavors.  

Clerical celibacy is just a discipline.  There is no command in Scripture mandating celibacy. In fact the Apostles themselves were married.  Scripture therefore does not indicate that celibacy is an integral part of the priesthood.  I note that in discussions of the subject these things are brought up as though it was some huge secret the Church does not want people to know.  The Church has made no secret of this information, and has made no secret of the fact that celibacy is a discipline, and that certain aspects of the discipline are not of Divine origin.  

Scripture and Tradition however testify that what is permitted is a "Married Clergy."  Thus, in the future the Church could permit a married person to enter the priesthood and in fact already does in rare circumstances.  What would NEVER happen is that a priest previously unmarried becomes married.  In other words if one enters the priesthood unmarried, that person will stay unmarried unless they leave the priesthood. This is Apostolic: the Apostles were married PRIOR to their calling as Apostles, they did not marry AFTER having already become Apostles.  Thus, what IS of Divine origin is the fact that if one becomes a priest PRIOR to marriage, one remains unmarried for life.  One cannot function as a priest and then get married.  If a man decided after becoming a priest that he wants to get married he must leave the active ministry and petition the Holy See for laicization.  (Sort of analogous to an "honorable discharge.")  But one forever remains a priest in his being.  The priesthood once validly received cannot be taken away.  One might not function as a priest, but one is still a priest.  

One who receives laicization may not function in any ministry of the Church-whether reading, giving communion, teaching CCD, teaching religion, etc.  This sounds harsh but the idea is one like "You want to give up the ministry to get married, you may do so, but you cannot play both sides of the fence.  You are either going to be all in or not, but you can't have your cake and eat it too. The married life is now your calling." How strictly this is followed I am not sure because I interned in a parish where a former priest was the Director of Religious Ed.  (A great and holy man who left to get married. The Church's loss is his family's gain) Though I remember he came on a communion call with me.  I asked if he wanted to give communion since the person was his personal friend.  He told me he was not permitted due to the fact that he was a priest.  I told him I thought that was ridiculous.  He then explained to me what I told you above and it made more sense.  Thus, perhaps a former priest may serve in a teaching capacity with permission.  

Celibacy is not forced on anyone.  Those who become priests do so understanding that they are giving up the good of marriage for the sake of the Gospel and the work of God.  I admit I would be very happy if we priests could get married, and I would not complain if the rule were changed. (Of course that is only 10% the battle for me!  The other 90% would trying to find a women wiling to put up with me! No small feat I am sure---at least that is what my cohorts in ministry tell me.)

Nevertheless no one put a gun to my head on ordination day, and no one forced me to accept celibacy.  I felt God calling me to be a priest.  Since the only way I could become a priest was to accept celibacy, I did so. It wasn't celibacy I wanted, it was the priesthood I wanted--but celibacy and priesthood are a package deal in the Roman Rite/West.  You can't have one without the other. Thus I made a choice for priesthood deciding my desire for priesthood is greater than my desire for marriage. Would every priest say the same thing?  Probably not.  Each person's "story" is unique to them.  I can say this: Men who enter the priesthood who are psychosexually healthy would all agree that priesthood is not something they entered because they DIDN'T desire marriage, but DESPITE their desire for marriage. In short: they SACRIFICED a good they desired for something more important: the Gospel.  

1 Corinthians 9:5 appears in Paul's overall discussion of what his rights as an Apostle are because some in the community do not believe Paul's authority is equal to that of the other Apostles.  Paul stats what his rights and then renounces those rights for the sake of the Gospel.  Paul is trying to establish that his preaching is not undertaken  on his own, but because of Divine compulsion.  However to merit a reward for his labors he must bring something of his own self to his work.  This he does by renouncing his rights.  

If you have a Bible with scholar notes in it all of this is explained in them.  The short answer however is that Paul is stating his rights, and then renouncing them to show that his concern is the Gospel, not himself.  Take a look at the rest of the periscope.


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Father Dave Bechtel


I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.


I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

©2016 All rights reserved.